Aussies urged to get new mozzie vaccine ahead of 'high-risk' summer

Australia's peak medical body is warning Australians to protect themselves against a growing threat this summer in the wake of major flooding in large swathes of the country this year.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) in NSW is urging all Australians who are eligible to get vaccinated for Japanese encephalitis to get the newly available jab against the mosquito-borne virus. The extremely wet conditions throughout NSW, Queensland and Victoria have raised concerns over a spike in mosquito activity and a subsequent surge of the virus, with doctors warning of a potentially "high-risk" summer ahead.

Australians who live in flood affected areas and anyone helping out in flood recovery are eligible for a free vaccine while others are urged to take extra precautions against mosquito bites. Anyone who works at, or lives near a pork abattoir is also able to get a free vaccine to protect against the deadly disease. Researchers still don't know the role of feral pigs in the spread of Japanese encephalitis.

"It’s really simple,” said Dr Michael Bonning, AMA President in NSW. "Some NSW residents should be rolling up their sleeves to get their vaccine, while others need to keep them rolled down."

A woman takes photos of floodwaters in NSW on Friday. Source: Getty
A woman takes photos of floodwaters in NSW on Friday. Source: Getty

Those who live in areas inundated by floodwaters in recent months are most at risk.

"Anyone west of Dubbo should check if they are in a local government area of high Japanese encephalitis virus concern. In addition, if you spend more than four hours a day outdoors, or live in temporary or floor damaged accommodation, or have been involved in prolonged flood recovery efforts, then you may be eligible for a free vaccine," he said.

There have been 31 confirmed human cases and six deaths so far this year and the virus may be endemic in Australia, Brisbane researchers warned in late October. About 99 per cent of cases are asymptomatic but some people experience severe infections which can cause severe symptoms including convulsions, paralysis and coma.

A third consecutive La Niña weather system has likely created new wetlands where the virus-carrying Culex annulirostris mosquito can breed, increasing the likelihood of the virus spreading to humans, pigs and wetland birds.

Can I get the vaccine for Japanese encephalitis?

Given the limited number of vaccines, not everyone is able to get a free jab. The rules around who is eligible vary between the states but are focused on those in flood-affected areas, with concerned Australians urged to ask their local GP if they are eligible for a free vaccine.

"Ask your GP if you are eligible for a free vaccine. And if you’re not, there are other precautions you can take to prevent bites – cover up, wear insect repellent, keep windows and doors closed or install flyscreens, and remove stagnant water from buckets or watering cans," Dr Bonning said.

You can check your eligibility for the jab in NSW here. Those in Victoria can see the same information here and Queenslanders can check their eligibility here.

Japanese encephalitis is spread through mosquitoes (pictured).
There have been 31 confirmed human cases and six deaths from Japanese encephalitis in Australia this year. Source: Getty

Tuesday's warning by the AMA comes after Aussie scientists also sounded the alarm ahead of summer.

"We are extremely concerned about further outbreaks of Japanese encephalitis in Australia," Associate Professor Greg Devine from Brisbane's QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute warned last month.

"The wet and warm weather creates the right environment for mosquitoes to proliferate and may encourage changes in the distributions of the wild birds that maintain the virus during Australia's winter months.

"Most Australians have not been exposed to the virus before so they have no immunity. We are urging people to take precautions."

with AAP

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